It’s now widely accepted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves creating and revelling in one grandiose spectacle after another. The completion of one year of its second term in office might have seen a series of pageants unfold in late May if it were not for the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Most right-thinking — not Right-wing — Indians will see a celebration now as obscene. With Lockdown 4.0 in force, the economy staring at negative GDP, a health crisis turning into a humanitarian crisis not seen since Partition, millions of migrants trudging hundreds of kilometres across states on foot, an economic stimulus package of Rs 20 lakh-crore that many analysts took apart in two paragraphs, 40 special trains losing their way, confusion over flights, and China intrudes across the LAC, a self-congratulatory event would look out of place even for the master of spectacle. However, the BJP thinks differently. The party will hold more than 750 virtual rallies across the nation to mark the anniversary.
The second consecutive term for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which is also known as Modi 2.0, stands out for, among other things, a brazenness in macro decisions, a clear tilt to Hindutva with the decks cleared for the construction of a Ram mandir and the passage of Triple Talaq Act, and a disdain for niceties and procedure.
If before COVID-19, the central government came across as unabashedly anti-Muslim, during the outbreak, it has come across as classist and anti-poor. There is a deepening belief in the BJP’s electoral invincibility — partly due to an Opposition that cannot get its act together — which in turn has meant a lack of accountability.
Few demand answers from the government; it gets away without responsibility, be it the four-hour notice for locking down India, or collecting nearly Rs 10,000 crore in PM-CARES Fund whose allocations for COVID-19 relief are opaque. An emboldened BJP is seen toppling an elected government in Madhya Pradesh and accused of attempting it in Maharashtra. It is at the same time that we see defence chiefs making political statements, and the Supreme Court procrastinating on matters of individual rights and liberties. Now, it seems that the unimaginable state of affairs is the new normal.
The lack of accountability is typified by the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. On February 24, when India had three cases and the graph seemed to move up, the government was amusing United States President Donald Trump at a gathering of 125,000 people in a stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Through February and March, preparations for the pandemic were tardy, air travel and airports were not shut down till the third week of March, and consultations were not scheduled with opposition parties and state governments. Even NITI Aayog CEO has said that the lockdown has massively disrupted supply chains.
Before COVID-19 laid India’s economy low, it was already gasping for air. Unemployment was at a 45-year high. Police entered college campuses and arrested protesting students; BJP leaders who went on rampage or prodded the slogan ‘Goli maaron saalon ko’ are scot free. Social strife and communal division was rife with the government moving the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Parliament and rolling out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that would have turned millions of minorities into second-class citizens. Delhi saw its worst riots in decades.
Even before that, the government nullified Article 370 taking away the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, bifurcated the state into two union territories, and placed Kashmir under a severe lockdown and communication blackout. Three former chief ministers were considered threats under the Public Safety Act, and placed under house arrests. Two of them have since been released. Those who dared to protest any of this were arrested under draconian laws. COVID-19 only made a bad situation worse.
The BJP’s supporters look at these lapses but see a starkly different picture. They see a government led by a no-nonsense, authoritative, driven man often let down by a bureaucracy that’s still loyal to the Congress. They see Modi now comfortably ensconced in Lutyens’ Delhi and feel proud. They are hurt when the economy chugs listlessly, but find excuses to explain it. After all, the government has bolstered their idea of a Hindu India.
Here lies the dichotomy: what delights the BJP, what works for its supporters is not necessarily in the best interests of a composite and inclusive India. As an Indian, there’s little to celebrate.Smruti Koppikar, a senior Mumbai-based journalist and urban chronicler, writes on politics, development, gender and the media. Views are personal.